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Wednesday, Sep. 19, 2018
Runner Dana Wilson grows from planting trees
by Randy Pascal

There are countless starting points that have prompted young adults to pick up running as a pastime that soon transforms to a passion. But I can’t say that I have heard “tree planting”, before, as the genesis to a marathon championship.

Yet that was exactly the case for 39 year old Wasaga Beach native and 2017 Sudbury Rocks Marathon female first place finisher Dana Wilson. Having moved to Sudbury with her husband (Nathan) in 2014, the mother of two young children posted a time of 3:42:52 in showing the way for the women’s delegation, completing the fourth marathon of her career in May, but her first in the past eight years or so.

A volleyball player during her high school years, Wilson is in a relative minority of marathoners who can look back on absolutely no competitive involvement in either cross-country or track and field from their youth. Her base, as noted, would come from a highly unlikely source.

“I went tree planting during the first summer of my undergrad degree at Waterloo,” stated the member of the team at the Sudbury District Health Unit. “With tree planting, you make more money the more you do, and I had a really great summer out west.”

“I worked really hard and made a lot of money, and that gave me some positive feedback about how gratifying it was to be out there doing something. It was hard, physical work for sure. I would say I have never worked so hard physically in my life. That was the biggest thing that got me into fitness.”

Running initially with friends from school, Wilson was not about to ease her way in. “A girlfriend in grad school suggested training for a half marathon, so my first race was actually a half,” said Wilson. “I’ve actually never raced anything below a half marathon.”

Her life journey, through her mid-twenties and into her thirties, would take her on an interesting academic path that featured stops at Waterloo, McMaster, McGill and the University of New Brunswick, all of which offered, to some extent or another, an accompanying side trek that related to athletics.

“It kind of started with triathlon training while at McGill,” recalled Wilson. “I really enjoy swimming and really enjoy running, and I really like biking, I just don’t like road bikes as much. I just don’t feel safe. But they have the F1 (Formula One) track that you can train on, and that was great.”

“When I was doing my post-doc at UNB, I met some really lovely ladies that I lived with for a summer, and we started training for triathlons,” she added. “At the same time, the Fredericton Marathon was coming up and it just happened to be the same route that I was running quite regularly, so I said what the heck. I had time to kill.”

By the time the family moved to Northern Ontario and was in the process of expanding via the birth of both Finn and Brooke, life became busier, as Wilson looked to find a way to squeeze in various workouts, even if racing was not in the mix.

“I started doing more running on the treadmill in the basement, and then I would do other fitness stuff – biking a lot, workout videos, swimming a lot in the lake in the summer,” she said. Clearing up some nagging post child-birth health issues, Wilson received a clean bill of health late in 2016, wasting no time at all in setting her sights on a brand new target.

“I had to wait until January 1st to start running, but I think I went a couple of days early, because I just couldn’t wait any longer,” she laughed. “I wanted to do another marathon before I turned 40, so I targeted the Rocks Marathon in May and signed up right away. If I signed up, then I have to do it, right?”

Indeed she would, opening a door to a Sudbury running community that she did not even know existed. Best to go directly to the long-time local running guru who runs the Sudbury Rocks Running Club website and also serves as a leader and primary contact person for twice a week group runs.

“I emailed Vince (Perdue) the next day. He told me not to worry, that there’s something for everyone, that I would be welcomed.” While Wilson was not new to the concept of training in a group setting, there was something a little different with the set-up in the city she now called home.

“I really had a great time running with the Hyde Park Road Runners (Toronto), but it’s a big place, and there are always thousands of people in every race that you run,” noted Wilson. “I feel like I’ve gotten to know Sudbury much better through running with our group. Everyone that I trained with was there on race day, which was really cool.”

That included, of course, the highly personable point man of the group. “I don’t know how Vince does it, out every Saturday, every Wednesday, always there to give advice. He’s got a story for every situation. He’s got every type of running experience. If he hasn’t done it, he knows someone who has.”

Her victory in Sudbury was nice, though Wilson had no trouble keeping it all in perspective. “I’ve never been a speed demon, and there wasn’t a very large number of female runners,” she said with a smile. Still, she is looking to moving on to her next challenge, perhaps aiming to break the 3:40 barrier in the next year or two.

“Everyone is training for something,” she stated. Even when one is simply planting trees.

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